Armed with a camera and a 45 handgun, my father fought fascism in the most unlikely of places: Iceland. His repair ship, Vulcan, dodged Nazi U-boats on the North Atlantic as it churned through the black-green waves of an angry sea. Nestled in convoy, Vulcan housed a photo lab, carpentry, and machine shop. Possessed the ability to patch the hull of an Allied ship damaged by a Nazi torpedo. Do the grunge work of war.
Once it arrived in Iceland, Vulcan became living quarters for my father and the others until their camp of Quonset huts were finished. A camp that the men dubbed, Camp Kwitcherbelliakin.
During his time in Iceland and the North Atlantic, my father saw horrors I am only now able to understand. As a Navy photomate, it was his job to take pictures of those horrors and others. One, a classified event, was the death of dozens of young women at sea. They died aboard a torpedoed troopship which didn't have enough lifeboats for everyone onboard. So the order was given to sacrifice the women to spare the soldiers needed so badly in Europe to fight Hitler. Haunted by the experience his whole life, Dad was convinced, even at age 85, that he could be thrown in prison for even talking about the event.
There were scars of war I saw and those I didn't. I never saw the bits of shrapnel my mother removed with tweezers from my father's back to keep the metal from catching on dad's t-shirt. But my brother remembers that. What I do remember was seeing dad napping in a pool of sunlight on the family room floor. Underneath the floor lay the hot water pipes that warmed our house. Dad bought our 1950s ranch house because it had floor radiant heat. And because it soothed his forever cold feet, which suffered frostbite in a plane crash in Iceland. Ever so often, I'd also see Dad limping. Flare-ups, he told me, of malaria he had caught someplace during the war. The most lasting wounds my father suffered during the war were present in his sullen, withdrawn, and angry moods. Moods that he tended to by spending countless hours in his garage workshop.
I will never know everything my father experienced at sea and in Iceland. But I don't have to. I have his discharge papers, which show the damage to his bones, teeth, and feet. I know that he weighed 117 pounds when he was sent home from Iceland. I can fill in the blanks.
And I will never forget.